Brain Cancer Research Appeal

Professor Susan Short answers your questions about brain cancer research at Leeds


Why should I support brain cancer research at Leeds, rather than through a cancer charity?

Obviously I think it’s great for people to support cancer research through any charity. I would say that the issue with brain tumour research is that there’s not much funding available for it, because it is quite rare. Many cancer charities focus on other cancers, that are more common, but I believe we don’t see the proportion of funding we should see, based on the impact that brain tumours have. Also, here at Leeds we have so many elements already in place that any amount people are able to give really will make a difference – it makes a difference to how quickly we can work, how fast we can take lab discoveries into the clinic so we’re helping real people.

Why are you asking for alumni support, instead of investment from pharmaceutical companies or charities?

We do, always, seek funding from other sources. For example, we receive some funding from cancer charities, which we are extremely grateful for. But the truth is, there are gaps. Those gaps really slow us down. For example, charities and drug companies are much more likely to fund early-stage research in the lab, and late-stage clinical trials. The bit in between, actually developing the research, getting it so we can start using it in our patients, is hard to find funding for – but that’s crucial! Alumni funding can help us fill those gaps, it could help us get to a new treatment sooner. And for my patients, getting that treatment as soon as possible really is critical.

When will this new virus treatment be available to patients?

It’s being tested in patients now, but we don’t know when (or if) it will become part of standard treatment. That’s what we’re trying to find out. At the moment, we’re testing this treatment to see, first of all, if it’s safe for patients when combined with chemo- and radiotherapy. Then we’re testing to see if it is effective and improves the outcome for patients. That study will run for about two years. It’s hard to know what the next steps will be until we know the outcome of that trial – if it’s successful, I hope we’ll have a new treatment option for my patients within years, certainly, not decades.

There have been some news reports about immunotherapy for cancer treatment, how does this research fit in?

So immunotherapy is an exciting arm of cancer research, because for a long time scientists have thought that the immune system should be a powerful tool to fight off cancer. But it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve had some really promising compounds that actually ‘switch on’ the immune system so it fights cancer.There are different types of immunotherapy – one is using compounds (potential drugs) to help the immune system recognise and fight off cancer. There are some on-going studies looking into that. The other – what we’re doing – is using a virus. Viruses are something we already know the immune system recognises and fights, so using a virus to ‘switch on’ the immune system is a type of immunotherapy.

Are there other studies across the UK looking into using viruses to treat cancer?

Yes, there have been some exciting initial results from using viruses in certain cancers – especially in skin and lung cancers. We’re the only group in the UK investigating using viruses to treat brain tumours specifically.

I know somebody with a brain tumour, can they try this treatment?

The treatment is not available for public use. A clinical trial is underway, but we’re not recruiting for that trial at the moment. As there are many types of brain tumours, it’s important that they consult their own oncologist, who will be able to suggest the best treatment options.